Keep a steady stream of ideas with a content idea map

Last week, I went step-by-step through one of many ways you can follow to build a blog post. But a blog should include many posts that are relevant to your business and its purpose. So this week, I’ll walk you through how to build a content map (or several) as one method to keep the ideas coming.

If you’re familiar with mind mapping, you may already have a good idea of where I’m going with this. Just to be clear, this isn’t about mapping content to personas or buyer stage. It’s about using a mind map to brainstorm and build a repository of connected content ideas you can pull from as you plan.

Here’s a conceptual image of what a content map can look like:

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I find it can be challenging to generate enough ideas to build a content map on my own steam in a reasonable amount of time, so I like to bring friends (colleagues) into the brainstorm with me. Getting a group of people together in a room to bounce ideas around makes for a lively conversation since all the possibilities trigger creativity in different ways for different people. This is one of my favorite parts of planning - brainstorming all the things with smart, creative people!

Start with one major topic or key message as the central focus

When I build marketing strategies with my clients, one of the exercises I do with them is to take each key message and brainstorm all the different content ideas we can think of to help get that message across.

Everything is fair game. I don’t restrict the discussion to topics - we bring medium into the discussion as well since some content ideas are better suited to specific channels.

We also discuss different ways to position the content, such as covering a topic through a negative perspective. Or asserting a point of view about a topic.

It may seem a bit granular for a brainstorm session, but it’s all about keeping the conversation flowing naturally. Don’t get caught up in the details, but don’t restrict them from being part of the ideas that come forward unless the discussion starts to go off the rails.

Drop down a level and add topic branches to each major topic

This is where the content ideas can start to really flow. You’re taking that big topic and breaking it down into smaller topics based on a few essential factors:

  • Your message - keep it in mind so you stay focused and don’t veer off into irrelevant territory.

  • Your audience - keep them in mind to ensure the ideas are addressing their needs.

  • Your goals - keep them in mind to filter out content that may not help you achieve your goals.

These three factors are ideal to stay laser focused on content that will fit within your plan and provide valuable information to your audience.

Dig even deeper to break down your topic branches into subtopics

This is usually where you might start to see connections between different content ideas more clearly, along with more granular details like the channel or medium because the topics are small enough now that you might get a mix of content titles and more generalized ideas. This is fine.

Keep breaking down each topic and subtopic until you can’t break it down anymore or until it doesn’t make sense to. The end result should provide you with a pretty comprehensive repository of ideas. Like this (click to enlarge):

I spent about 20 minutes putting this mind map together and it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as I could have done. I added subtopics I’ve already written about or have drafted in my queue for upcoming content. And that’s okay. The value of having it in the map is also in seeing how everything is connected.

Go and map your way to regular content

One of the most challenging aspects to keeping a content program going is having a steady stream of ideas. The second problem is having enough time. I can’t give you more time, but I can give you a way to generate ideas.

How to build content that helps your buyers

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The value of content is in its capacity to answer questions and objections before a potential buyer (even existing customers) ever have a conversation with your business about a sale. It gives your point of view and context around what makes you different from other companies that have similar offerings.

The best content is useful and helpful to the person reading or viewing it without giving a hard sell. And it’s not hard to do. You’re already doing it every single day, but you aren’t calling it content creation. It’s just part of your everyday routine.

Here’s how you can turn day-to-day interactions into a source of content:

1) Answer questions.

Customers, prospects and even your staff ask questions all the time. But does your website answer your most frequently asked questions? If not, this is a great starting place. Don’t build a FAQ page either. Take a deeper dive and write a blog post, record a video or collaborate on a podcast. Answering questions can be done in a variety of ways, from instructional content to best practice guidance to informed opinions. And it’s okay to answer the same or similar questions more than once. After all, you learn more over time and there’s always a different perspective to consider.

2) Answer objections.

If you’ve been involved in the process of making a sale, you’ve had to answer objections. The objections people make to your offerings can be a goldmine of useful tidbits for content. The more you can address objections through content, the easier it is to have conversations when a customer transitions from their research to having conversations. Sometimes objections are sensitive so you need to delicately weave answers to those concerns into your content. Other times you can address it head on. And just like the questions you answer, give fresh answers to objections to reflect changes in your offerings and the market.

3) Tell your point of view.

You can’t be everything to everyone. But a lot of companies really try. One way you can stand out from similar companies is to take a stand. The best approach is to share your point of view on your industry. Maybe you have a somewhat controversial view: write it down and share why you feel that way. It might help you eliminate calls from outside your target market that won’t be worth your time.

4) Share relevant information.

What’s going on in your industry? News? Trends? Upcoming developments? Share it with your audience, even if it’s coming from another source (credible news sources are okay, competitors aren’t). Maybe you’ve been quoted in content or had your content published on another site, it’s great to promote this kind of content when it complements your messages and helps support your goals.

5) Promote community. 

It’s much harder for brands to grow communities now than it was even 5 years ago. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. The biggest promotor of community is being present and engaging on social. Reply to comments and messages on social sites. Share content with sources tagged and include relevant hashtags. Give time and attention to social content so it doesn’t sound rushed or too promotional. Social media is where your organization’s personality can shine.

What are some of your favourite examples of useful content?

Writer's block busters: 8 ways to get words to flow again

When I first started blogging, and for several years after, I never used the word "writer" to describe myself. It took me a while to realize that what I was doing actually did qualify me to say I’m a writer. That, and I realized I actually love writing. Sometimes I read something I wrote years ago and I surprise myself by thinking it's pretty darn good. Then other times I've struggled with many of the same issues that every writer I've ever known describes:

  • I have something to say and I know the point I want to make, but I can't find the right words or sequence of words to make my point(s).

  • I don't know what to write about or nothing from my list is inspiring me at a given moment.

  • I feel as if I have nothing new to say that is of value.

  • I just don't feel like writing.

  • I am bored by the topic.

  • I fear what others will say or think about what I'm writing.

  • I spend too much time trying to make a piece "perfect".

  • I don't like how the idea in my head is translated on the page. It's just not right.

The reason for the block matters to an extent, though sometimes knowing the reason doesn't give you more leeway to do something about it. If you've got a deadline, writer's block from the pressure of a deadline isn't going to be easily remedied. Though being tired, bored, overwhelmed, or over-saturated by content creation can all be helped.

Over the years, I've come up with different strategies for those times that my struggles with writing threaten to overcome my ability to get content out. 

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Find a new perspective

Maybe you need to view it from a unique position or a new angle. Change your perspective and see if there's a way to refresh your thinking and present a new-to-you view. A great example of using a different perspective to make a point is flipping good advice around,  like Demian Farnworth did in this post about copywriting on Copyblogger.

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Be controversial

This is also about perspective, but it's about specifically taking on a potentially negative view or a view that may invite controversy - or even a view you don’t agree with. It requires a thick skin if you hit publish, though. Use caution if you decide to go this route.

Go old school and get offline

Do you have an old typewriter? Maybe not, but what about a pad and pen? I bet you have one of those laying around somewhere. Pick them up and give your typing skills a rest. Hopefully, the act of physically writing words will help the words start to flow. A coach I worked with once suggested that I follow Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way methods. Her morning pages are such a helpful way to clear out blocks. And it’s simple to do, but not easy to fit in unless you commit. What do you do? Write 3 pages first thing every morning to get everything out of your brain. That’s it.

Use a different technology

Years ago, I got turned on to OmmWriter and DayOne. OmmWriter is a tool I use when I need to write in my happy, zen place. The music is soothing, mellow, and there are no distractions - no formatting, no font choices, the background is relaxing. It's a refreshing writing experience. 

DayOne is my cloud-based journal. I've been journaling since I was 10 and my mom bought me my first notebook for the purpose. I still have every journal I've ever written in. I go through phases of journaling regularly and phases where I say nothing. With DayOne, I can get out anything that's blocking me from writing. It's cathartic and one day my son will have a pretty comprehensive record of my personal dysfunction. Bonus!

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Find another medium

I've been colouring a lot lately since I got the Enchanted Forest colouring book. It gave me some much-needed downtime from writing that allowed me to get back to working on a book I started a few months ago. Colouring is just one medium you could choose. Painting, knitting, crocheting, tatting, macrame, photography, videography - any creative outlet that fills the need to distract you from words can help your words start flowing again.

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Can’t write? Go read.

Reading is one of my favourite ways to get back to writing. It doesn't always matter what I read - it could be fiction or it could be industry information. But getting my mind off the pressure I feel to produce my own intelligible words by immersing myself in something else is key.

Eliminate distractions

I'm an Apple fan-girl. I have a MacBook Air, an iPad, and an iPhone. I can turn on "do not disturb" and the notifications stop pouring in. I recently even deleted Facebook off my mobile devices! I love being connected, but I'm being more conscientious and purposeful about when I'm connected. 

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Get away from the computer

Just go do something else that allows you to recharge: 

  • Take a walk.

  • Go for a run.

  • Dance.

  • Play a video game.

  • Watch a TV show.

  • Get a coffee.

  • Stop for the day.

  • Plan your next vacation.

The key here is to stop thinking about how hard it feels to write and do something that has nothing to do with writing or creating.

Writer's block doesn't have to stop you from writing. It's just a temporary challenge that you can be proactive about resolving.

Did I miss any good writer's-block-busting ideas? Tell me in the comments!

Don't be selfish with your communication

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Have you ever known someone that couldn't explain a concept to others?

They probably knew it backwards and forwards, but when they start talking and it sounds like they have their own private language.

This is an example selfish communication - not that it's done intentionally! - but it's important to be aware that how we share ideas is as important as what the ideas are.

I really like the term "selfish communication". It makes a critical point about the words we use and when. 

The truth is, we've all communicated selfishly at some point. It happens most often when you know a topic so well that you forget that others aren't as up-to-speed as you are. 

Talking to someone who neglects to take that giant step back can feel a lot like opening a long book in the middle - you've missed so much of the story that you're completely lost. 

How do you ensure your communication isn't "selfish"? 

The first step is opening the book on the first page. Set a foundation and then start building the structure of your ideas and information from there. Keep these four tips in mind:

Be audience-focused.

Put yourself in your audience's shoes. Would you understand what you're sharing with them? Unless you know differently, assume people don't know what you know.

Avoid jargon.

Industry-specific terms and acronyms could leave your audience cross-eyed and head spinning. It might sound impressive to your colleagues but your colleagues probably aren't the people you're trying to reach. 

Write conversationally.

Social media is meant to be a two-way conversation. Using this style makes it easier to take a step back and give context and critical details to topics you have expertise in. 

Ask for input.

Ask someone you trust to read your content and give you their honest feedback. 

Selfish communication isn't an overt act. It just happens out of habit. The people we work and collaborate with usually know the background. So, it's easy to forget that we need to start at the beginning with others. 

These are simple steps you can use to make sure your content speak to your audience on the right level about any topic.

Be original. Be classic. Don't jump on the bandwagon.

Because the bandwagon isn't original or classic. It also gets old pretty fast.

I've started to get meme-fatigued in recent months. I'm also list post fatigued, and how-to post fatigued, and all sorts of other typical kinds of content fatigued. It's not that I never find value in these types of content, because I sometimes do. There's an enormous volume of them out there, though. 

I've gotten away from producing these kinds of posts myself, because I want to focus on ideas and concepts at a higher level. That's not to say I won't ever write a listicle or how-to post, but it won't be a go to source of content for me. Truthfully, it'd be easier if I did. 

Jumping on the bandwagon

The thing is, those kinds of posts are a dime a dozen. They're unoriginal and usually not terribly creative. They serve a purpose, and even if there are 100,000 posts of the same list from 100,000 different sources, there are still probably many people who haven't seen that set of information who could benefit from it. That's where we're at now in this world of constant content.

People like to jump on bandwagons. There's even a book about doing it as a strategic tactic.

One recent bandwagon is the "Be Like Me" meme, which allows users to create lovely passive aggressive internet wisdom in the form of a "funny" cartoon to share with their friends. (Some really are funny, some are dumb, but most are judgey and we can all do without seeing them.

And now, of course, brands have gotten in on it. Because, why not?

In truth, I think the brand renditions of the meme are a mix of the usual combinations of bandwagon-jumping - some lame, some meh, some all right, but nothing really exceptional in that particular list.

The easy path to content

It took me about five minutes to create and save the images in the gallery above. So easy. If I wanted to create something branded it may have taken me 10-15 minutes. Longer if I decided to get fancy about it. Either way, the idea is easy and effortless. It's not particularly strategic because the statements aren't going to tell anyone about my business or what I have to offer. Though in the case of the brand examples in the article above, it was also a mix of vague to blatant. I did appreciate that Firehouse Subs basically created a sort of on-brand PSA. 

In general all of the brand examples felt like forced, unnatural, unrelatable (Maybe Pizza Hut is more woo-worthy in India?), contrived content. Who wants any of those words used about their content!? I sure don't.

Think about how many times brands have been accused of leveraging tragedies or catastrophic events to get attention/make sales - every 9/11 anniversaryHurricane SandyDavid Bowie's death, and I could go on and on.

It's not always a bad thing

When a meme or formulaic type of content serves as a good way to create great content, why not use it? 

There's honestly no reason not to.

But ask yourself:

  • Is this actually great content, or is it easy filler? (There's nothing inherently wrong with easy filler, but consider that it could waste your audience's time and you may lose their attention.)
  • Does it communicate something relevant or important? 
  • Will it be lost in the far-too-similar noise of others using the same tactic?
  • Is there a better way to share this idea or information?
  • What are the chances it will generate positive/negative sentiment?
  • Does this fit the brand I'm building?

Good content is good content

The formula you use to create great content really doesn't matter in the end. And no, not every piece you create is going to be a winner. However, that's no reason to hitch a ride on a bandwagon that's already overfull. We all have the capacity to do and be better than that.